Listen To The Voices Of The Children

Game Changers Youth Summit:

Empowering Tomorrow’s Tribal Leaders

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Youth Summit Banner surrounded by boards with participant comments. August 7, 2013

On August 7, 2013 in Kyle, South Dakota, in the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation, thirty-seven teens gathered to hear from speakers at Lakota Children’s Enirchment’s Game Changers Youth Summit.

The free event was moderated by LCE President and Founder Maggie Dunne, with the help of Keith Martinez, Chair of LCE’s newly installed Youth Advisory Board. Youth Board members facilitated peer discussions following each speaker presentation.

“We want you to understand that the future is full of possibilities,” said Maggie Dunne, “you are going to hear from people who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation and they will tell you about what they are doing to follow their dreams and we hope that you will take away some of their important messages.  Today’s speakers are leaders, role models and mentors who you can follow and stay in touch with in the years to come.”

The Speaker Presentations

The day opened and closed with a traditional Lakota Four Directional prayer sung by Inila Wakan Janis, from Kyle. Speakers included: David “Bulldawg” Michaud (boxer, trainer and writer); Dana Lone Hill (journalist); Keith Martinez (LCE Youth Advisory Board Chair and Gates Millennium Scholar at Villanova University);  Kiva Sam (from Kyle and now a teacher on Pine Ridge with Teach for America), Meghan Kittisotikul (teacher supervisor from Teach For America),  Eileen Janis (suicide intervention and Sweetgrass representative); and Sarah Jumping Eagle (pediatrician and journalist).

TFA Teachers Meghan Kittisotikul and Kiva Sam (left) and David "Bulldawg" Michaud (right)

TFA Teachers Meghan Kittisotikul and Kiva Sam (left) and David “Bulldawg” Michaud (right)

Following each presentation, students met in small groups and under the guidance of LCE’s Youth Advisory Board Members, discussed the content and then posted notes on boards. Participants were asked to reflect on what they LEARNED from the presentation; what the speakers inspired them to CARE about; and what they were inspired or determined to ACT upon. Throughout the day the students were encouraged to post their feedback and notes on boards identifying their DREAMS and GOALS for the future.

Central themes that arose from speakers included the importance of: following through on tasks, small or large; making an effort to remain positive and avoiding negativity from peers who discourage you from achieving your dreams or who may challenge the value of continuing in school; eliminating the influence of negative people from your life; pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone; finding mentors, through LCE, teachers and other participants in the Summit, who are also interested in bringing about change; and NOT giving UP or giving IN to negativity or discouragement from peers.

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Scatter Their Own provided an amazing performance!

The day closed with an inspirational talk and entertainment by SCATTER THEIR OWN, America’s latest and greatest family band, which delivered original rock music with a social message.

What are the DREAMS and GOALS of the YOUTH on the Pine Ridge Reservation?

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Summit participants with LCE Youth Board member Emily Janis, right.

The participants told us that they want to be, doctors, veterinarians, journalists, writers, authors, artists, singers, clinical psychologists, suicide counselors, paleontologists, activists, protectors of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants, mentors and positive role models.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

  •  My goal is NOT to give up on my dreams and to try harder every day to be responsible. 
  •  My goal is to graduate High School, go to the army, go to college, and have a better life than I have now. 
  • To become a doctor, to become what [Summit speaker] Sarah [Jumping Eagle] has become. 
  •  My big dream is to have my own store and to HELP people, the earth and animals. 
  • I hope to become a clinical psychologist to come back and help people, the way that I needed help. 
  • I want to save a life. 
  • My dream is ride an elephant one day….My dream is to dig up dinosaur bones… 
  • My goal is to be a better person, and try new things, and to be a positive role model.
  • My goal is to finish my Bachelor of Science degree so that I can become a lawyer, so I can help my people out. 
  • My goal is to never drink [alcohol] or do drugs. 
  • I want to run a coffee shop that helps troubled teens. 
  • I want to be a boxer; [Summit speaker David “Bulldawg” Michaud] is my inspiration.
  • To be a teacher, like [Summit speaker Kiva Sam]. 
  • I want to be a successful woman… I want to be someone worth remembering…. I want to be smart.

What did the participants LEARN at the SUMMIT?

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Summit participant with Youth Advisory Board
#dreamteam member, Hopi Janis on right

The participants told us that they learned to persevere, to dream, to have the courage to stand by their dreams, and that they have the ability to shape their futures.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

  • I learned about courage. 
  • I learned that you can’t give up, even if you messed up a lot of other times….  Put your all into it! You can influence YOURSELF! 
  • I learned to be kind and not to be scared to dream. 
  • I learned that if you put yourself down, then you won’t get your dream but if you put your mind to it, then your wish will come true. 
  • I learned that I want to be a doctor, like [Summit speaker Sarah Jumping Eagle]. 
  • Never doubt your abilities, or you won’t accomplish anything. 
  • I learned that [David Bulldawg Michaud] worked hard to touch his dreams and never quit! …I’m glad he did not give up. 
  • There ARE other opportunities in life; you just gotta look for them.
  • I learned to trust people… to take care of [myself]… I learned that thinking about the future is important. 
  • I learned not to mess around in class and [that I should] pay attention. 
  • Believe IN YOURSELF, don’t let other people put you down, and stay with positive people.
  • I learned that [I can] make change on the Rez…. My dream IS worth working for. 
  • I learned that you can overcome any obstacle, if you believe in yourself, even if you grew up on the reservation.

What do the participants CARE about?

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LCE Youth Board members Bobby Pourier, Colton Sierra
and Youth Advisory Board Chairperson Keith Martinez #dreamteam

 The participants told us that they care about their families, ensuring their families are healthy and safe, achieving something positive, protecting Mother Earth, her creatures and helping others. They want to make the world a better place and they want to help people in their community.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

  • I CARE about my life. I don’t want to be a nobody, I want to be a SOMEBODY.
  • I care about my family and want to cherish them…. I care about my family and how they didn’t have a home. 
  • I care about suicide prevention.
  • I care about learning from others’ mistakes. 
  • I care about [Summit speaker Dana Lone Hill] and I admire that she did not give up [looking for] her brother [who was removed from the family and placed in foster care]…. Dana Lone Hill let her voice be heard and she found her brother!…. I care that her brother went to a [foster] home… I really care about [Dana’s] story….
  • I care about my siblings whom I do not know. 
  • [The speaker] made me care about how I shape my future.
  • I care about getting more businesses going on the Rez.
  • I care about my education…. I care about school. It gets you smart and that’s how you get a job and make change… [The speakers] made me care more about my activities and schooling. 
  • I care about changing the lives of young people on the reservation and I care about helping open their minds and helping mend their [pain]. 
  • I care about my family and my people. I am tired of seeing people suffer from alcohol and drugs, but mostly, [I am tired of] seeing my family being put into prisons just because of their racial background.

What ACTIONS are they inspired to undertake?

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Justice Lone Hill, Junior Youth Advisory Board helper on left, with Summit participant

The participants told us they want to help themselves, their families and friends to believe in their abilities. They want to stay positive and get a solid education, to write poetry, write books and become leaders. They want to eliminate negative influences and behaviors at school and they to help others learn, so they all can achieve their dreams. They are positive and optimistic about the future, but understand that they will face obstacles along the way.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

  • I am going to stay positive…. I want to have a positive attitude when it comes to interacting with people. 
  • I want to help others believe in themselves. 
  • I will take responsibility for my actions. If I don’t like how some things are done, I am going to think about how they SHOULD be done. 
  • I will not be mean to teachers and I will pay attention in class…. I will pay EXTRA attention in class….. I will focus on my grades, pay attention and never talk back….  I am going to act smart. 
  • I am going to be a leader and show all the young ones right from wrong. I am going to stay determined…. I want to act upon my dreams to make a difference. 
  • I am going to test my abilities so my dreams can come true.  
  • I am going to help my friends do good in school. 
  • I will help my family…. I will help others… I will make sure my friends know that they can talk to me…. I will be nice and optimistic towards others. 
  • I want to learn more and work harder. You can’t achieve your goals without trying.  
  • I will always have a positive attitude, keep my goals high, make my family proud and I won’t give up on myself. 
  • I am going to write more poetry. 
  • I will make the rez a better place by volunteering for things and helping my family heal. 
  • I want to learn more about our culture and language and get more people who know about it to help us learn.  
  • I want to help the poorer people who don’t get to eat. 
  • I will follow my dreams/goal to become a clinical psychologist and to come back to help my people.  
  • Instead of saying I wanna do things, I’m gonna make it happen…. I’m never gonna give up…. I can make a change.
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Take Away Messages from some of the Summit Participants and #dreamteam Youth Advisory Board members

Want to see dreams like these come true?

Don’t know HOW to get INVOLVED?

You CAN join the movement calling for social change, by spreading the word, starting an affiliated club, holding a bake sale, car wash, running a race, or donating time. You can also donate a birthday, Bat Mitzvah or Confirmation, by asking guests to make a tax deductible contribution rather bringing gifts. If you are a resident of Pine Ridge stay tuned for updates on our next youth summit and upcoming events and projects.  Contact us at info@lakotachildren.org and we will help you get you started!

We can’t change the past but together we can shape the future; together we can ensure that ALL of America’s children have equal opportunities.

Editor’s Note: Some Summit participant comments were very similar and were combined for space purposes; the combination of different entries is indicated by the inclusion of elipses (…) between the two or three related comments, when participant comments are grouped together.

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